Development of conduct problems

Conduct problems (e.g., physical aggression, oppositional behaviors) in youth are one of the leading reasons that families receive psychological or school support services. Research in developmental psychopathology has shown that youth with conduct problems form a heterogeneous group. For example, youths with callous-unemotional traits (e.g., low levels of empathy and lack of guilt), have been identified as being at high risk for developing persistent and severe behavioral problems. Callous-unemotional traits were recently added as a specifier to Conduct Disorder in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Youth with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits, in comparison to their non-callous peers, may be less receptive to more traditional intervention strategies, such as time-out procedures. A deeper understanding of the various subtypes of youth with conduct problems (with or without callous-unemotional traits, for instance) has the potential to lead to the development and implementation of preventive and therapeutic interventions that are better suited to the strengths and vulnerabilities of these youths.

To this end, research carried out by Nathalie Fontaine and her team focuses on the development of conduct problems in young people, risk and protective factors and other related mental health problems, such as depression and substance use problems. The YDASC’s work focuses on the development of conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits in youth, their genetic and environmental influences, as well as the neural responses associated with these symptoms. Findings suggest that children with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits, when compared to their peers who do not have these characteristics, are more likely to show various adjustment problems over time, such as impulsivity and peer relationship difficulties. One of our studies, based on the analysis of a twin sample, also suggests strong genetic influences in callous-unemotional traits for boys with high and stable levels of these traits, whereas shared environmental factors instead appeared to influence high and stable levels of callous-unemotional traits in girls. Moreover, our findings suggest that, when exposed to emotional stimuli (e.g., distress in others), children with callous-unemotional traits have reduced neural responses (e.g., as measured by brain imaging techniques) compared to children without callous-unemotional traits.

In order to examine the development of behavioral problems over time, we rely on various datasets, including datasets from the Research Unit on Children’s Psychosocial Maladjustement (GRIP; In addition, our team also collects data from young children (3-4 years old) as well as from adolescents attending schools in Montreal or followed by the Centre jeunesse de Montréal – Institut universitaire. We are particularly interested in how youth perceive emotions in others (e.g., their ability to recognize emotions) in relation to their adjustment profile.


Sexual victimization

Isabelle V. Daignault’s research interests are aimed at developing a better understanding of children's and adolescents' needs when confronted to child sexual abuse or to other forms of victimization. As she also practises as a clinician, her research is clinical in nature and mainly conducted in collaboration with intervention settings such as: the Centre d’expertise Marie-Vincent and it’s research Chair “Chaire de recherche interuniversitaire Marie-Vincent sur les agressions sexuelles envers les enfants” (M. Hébert, M. Cyr), the Centre d’intervention en abus sexuel pour la famille (CIASF) et the Centre d’aide pour victimes d’actes criminels (CAVAC) de l’Outaouais. Her research program revolves around 3 axis.


Axis I : Violence, consequences and intervention. Research under this axis aims to contribute to the identification of factors influencing sexually abused children’s adaptation and recovery, as well as that of their parents. Such projects have led to various training activities and to publications pertaining, for example, to challenges in intervention with sexually abused preschoolers and to parents’ reaction and adaptation to the unveiling of their child’s sexual abuse. Graduate students from the CEDAJ for whom the project pertains to this axis are interested in youth and/or parents who are under Child protection services for various motives or who receive services from a Child Advocacy Centre, namely, Centre Centre d’Expertise Marie-Vincent.

Our graduate students for whom clinical research projects pertain to this axis are: Mathieu Boisvert, My An Frazer, Catherine Fortin et Patricia Paquette.


Axis II: The socio-judiciary service trajectory of victimized children and coordination documents the socio-judiciary service trajectory of children who are victims of sexual abuse and of other forms of violence to investigate the influence of coordination between actors involved in the trajectory and the repercussions of the application of judiciary procedures on the recovery of children. This axis subdivides into three main projects.

  • Coordination Project: The aim of this project is to evaluate the influence of the coordination between actors involved following an allegation of child sexual abuse on the recovery of children. This project is taking place in the context of a Child Advocacy Centre, namely Centre d’Expertise Marie-Vincent. At the heart of this project is the inter-sectorial coordination of sociojudiciary interventions and its synchronization with psychosocial services. Entitled: « The socio-judiciary service trajectory of sexually abused children: identifying circumstances that promote efficient coordination, children’s recovery and that facilitates legal action ,» This project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) (I.V. Daignault, M. Hébert., M. Cyr., Collin-Vezina, D., Lafortune, D.).

Graduate students for whom research projects pertain to this axis include: Ariane Roy

  • Judiciary Procedures Project: This project pertains more specifically to the repercussions of the application of judiciary procedures on the recovery of sexually abused children. Since the social response to allegations of sexual abuse can play an important role in the recovery of children, we are interested in the influence of procedures taken by Child protection services and by the judiciary system. When legal procedures are undertaken, the influence of a Court testimony preparation program is being assessed. The goal of this program is for children to benefit from an adequate preparation to help them feel competent and well informed and thus, to render an efficient testimony. This project is conducted in association with the Chaire interuniversitaire Marie-Vincent (Hébert, M., Cyr, M.) and with the Centre d’aide aux victimes d’actes criminels CAVAC de l’Outaouais (S. Lachambre, Cyr, M. Dufour, K.,), a centre specialized in offering services to victims of crime. The project is financed by les Fonds de recherche du Québec – société et culture (FRQSC) (I.V. Daignault).

Graduate students for whom research projects pertain to this axis include: Myriam Hany Elmi.

  • Crossover Youth Project: Conducted in collaboration with Denis Lafortune and Marie-Laure Payet, one of our Ph.D. candidates, this project aims to develop a better understanding of the complexity of interventions with youth who are followed in the context of a double mandate, one that combines child protection and rehabilitation though the juvenile justice system. More specifically, the project explores the influence of the service trajectories of these youths who are under child protection and transit to juvenile justice after committing a criminal offence. Entitled: Responding to protection and rehabilitation needs: how to intervene in a double mandate with delinquent youths who have also experienced maltreatment? this project is funded by La Fondation Richelieu (I.V. Daignault et D. Lafortune).

Graduate students for whom research projects pertain to this axis include: Marie-Laure Payet.


Axis III : Children presenting sexual behavior problems.

This axis aims to contribute to the evaluation of correlates that are associated with the emergence of sexual behavior problems in children, and to evaluate the efficacy of a group and an individual intervention program. This project is conducted in close collaboration with the Centre d’intervention en abus sexuel pour la famille (CIASF) and with the Centre d’Expertise Marie-Vincent, two centres offering therapeutic services to this clientele. The project benefits from a startup grant offered by the Arts & science faculty in collaboration with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) (I.V. Daignault).

Graduate students for whom research projects pertain to this axis include: Marie-Jeanne Tremblay.


Early research conducted by I. Daignault

In the past, early research conducted by I. Daignault focused the identification of factors related to different profiles of adaptation in sexually abused children. Her research examining the school adaptation of sexually abused children allowed to elaborate four profiles of adaptation, reflecting consequences of abuse in the school context, and describing various degrees of functioning in terms of school performance, behavior and social adaptation. Her research also allowed to identify protection factors associated with resilience in the school context, namely factors exerting an influence outside of the home environment, such as children’s implication into structured extracurricular activities.



The main projects carried out at the YDASC are supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé (FRQ-S), the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Société et culture (FRQ-SC) as well as by the Richelieu Donation.

This content has been updated on September 29 17 at 20 h 54 min.